Music

Listening Ahead: Upcoming Music Releases for March 2015

Matthew Fiander and Arnold Pan

Get a sneak peek of some of March's most compelling new releases, including albums from Courtney Barnett, Purity Ring, and Lightning Bolt.

If you only caught a fleeting glance at the most anticipated releases of March 2015, you might've thought the year was actually 2005, what with long awaited returns by Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens, and Death Cab for Cutie, not to mention a cryptically titled new album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Our picks for the month, though, focus on acts just starting to build their legacies and entering their primes, including the likes of indie outsider Courtney Barnett, self-proclaimed future-poppers Purity Ring, and neo-traditionalist Matthew E. White.

 

March 3

Artist: Pile

Album: You're Better Than This

Label: Exploding in Sound

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Pile
You're Better Than This

Boston's Pile is a curious rock band. It's an outfit that has all the grit and fury you'd expect from something labeled "rock", but the minute you try to pin the band down further than that, You're Better Than This wiggles free. The album melds Pile's muscle with its knack for subtlety. Look at the way chunky hooks shift into echoing rolls on opener "The World Is Your Motel", or the steady clash and thunder of drums on "Tin Foil Hat" underneath those chaotic guitar breaks and the wandering howl of vocals. You're Better Than This stomps confidently down a crooked path. These songs deliver a straight-on power, but the structures are constantly being thrown off-kilter, set on a strange edge, or rubbed against the grain. "Waking Up This Morning" and epic closer "Appendicitis" both play with space and dissonant guitar phrasings, but they always return to a zealous, frenetic sense of rhythm. You're Better Than This challenges yet rewards, bludgeoning you at one moment and washing over you the other. Pile has been building a following on the back of good records like dripping. But this, the band's new record, is its masterstroke. While Pile may challenge us to improve with its title, the band has never been better. Matthew Fiander

 

Artist: Purity Ring

Album: Another Eternity

Label: 4AD

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Purity Ring
Another Eternity

Purity Ring likes to tag its music as "future pop", which is an apt enough way to describe its electronic sound. But if the Canadian duo's earlier work put the inflection on the first term with its emphasis on forward-looking compositions, its new album Another Eternity shifts the focus to the latter with a catchy, cohesive set of could-be techno hits. Maybe it's only a coincidence, but the more organic pop approach of Another Eternity might have to do with the working conditions that produced it: While Purity Ring's 2012 debut Shrines was made by producer Corin Roddick and singer Megan James sharing ideas via email correspondence, Another Eternity was made together by the pair in an Edmonton studio. As the album's early singles suggest, the result is a collection of earworm-y melodies that are streamlined and muscular: In particular, the more cohesive workflow plays itself out in the give-and-take dynamic of "Push/Pull" and "Begin Again", as James' easy, earnest delivery takes on a sense of drama generated by imposing bass undertones, snapping beats, and pulsating synth lines. And it's not just the grand arena-filling gestures that stand out on Another Eternity, not when a more atmospheric piece like "Repetition" makes a lasting impact as James' delicate vocals float over impressionistic swathes of effects. Purity Ring might call its sound future-pop, but let's hope Another Eternity is more like the future of pop. Arnold Pan

 

March 10

Artist: Matthew E. White

Album: Fresh Blood

Label: Domino

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Matthew E. White
Fresh Blood

These days, it's not easy being an honest-to-goodness soul man, having to put up with suspicions of irony and authenticity to do what you do. But what makes Matthew E. White the real deal is that he's reverent and original at the same time, respecting time-honored traditions, while also giving them a twist in his own individual way. Building on his 2012 breakthrough Big Inner, White's new album Fresh Blood offers just what its title announces, capturing the eternal verities of love through imagery and metaphors too vivid and novel to be a rote recitation of anything else. While Fresh Blood sounds grand with its immaculate production and compositions bursting at the seams with resonant strings, ringing piano chords, and resourceful orchestration, it grabs at you because its sentiment feels so immediate, as if the expansive soundscapes were mining a deep, deep soul. What's more, the way these explorations flourish can take unexpected turns, as White moves fluidly on Fresh Blood from R&B symphonics and gospel gregariousness to Bacharach-esque pop and even artsy play -- just check out the moody undertones of "Tranquility" from the album teaser. Above all, you can feel how these combinations and permutations come from White's heart, which is what makes Fresh Blood genuinely its own thing. Arnold Pan

 

March 17

Artist: Stone Jack Jones

Album: Love & Torture

Label: Western Vinyl

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Stone Jack Jones
Love & Torture

Stone Jack Jones took eight years between his debut album, 2006's Bluefolk, and last year's excellent Ancestor. But, just a year later, he returns in March with Love & Torture. Once again he's aided by Patty Griffin and members of Lambchop, and once again he's produced by Roger Moutenot, but this album is hardly more of the same. Love & Torture kicks up a different sort of dust than the last album did. Ancestor dug deep into the past, but Love & Torture is an album about where all those yesterdays lead: today. Even as it explores past worry on "Thrill Thrill", or how Kurt Wagner's voice trails Jones like a tail he can't shake on "Circumstance", there's still a bracing acceptance of and celebration of the now on this album. The bleary-eyed opener "Shine" seems gauzy with a nascent joy. "Song" grinds at the edges, but there's something playful in its stomp. Closer "Amen" finds Jones emerging fully into the light he has only partly felt in his work to this point. Every moment, the bittersweet and the quietly triumphant, is hard-earned on Love & Torture, and Stone Jack Jones gives us a voice that feels weathered by time but not tired. In fact, he may just be getting started. Matthew Fiander

 

March 24

Artist: Courtney Barnett

Album: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Label: Mom+Pop

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Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

On her breakout release The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Courtney Barnett impressed with her verbose lyrics, but she also coated folk songs in curious textures. Her band fleshed the songs out into expansive, impressively hazy tunes. They didn't announce themselves as rock songs, but there was a rock sneer on the edges of them. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit makes no suggestions of rock music: it is, wholly, rock music. The band is tighter and more propulsive, whether they are bouncing out the power-pop on "Elevator Operator" or crunching through the art-rock oddities of "Pedestrian at Best". The record is yet another impressive set of Barnett's songs, but her despondency and existential worries grind nicely against the quickened pulse of these songs. It also leaves space for more textural exploration, like the barroom blues of "Small Poppies", the bright tones of Flying Nun-inspired "Depreston" or the psych-rock drama of "Kim's Caravan". Like its title, the album is stuffed with words, yet Barnett's true talent comes in the different shapes those lyrics come in, and she expands past her deadpan delivery to wail and snarl and weep all over this record. This is a fantastic step forward, an album as successful as its predecessor, but it improves on the formula by taking more risks and stretching the emotional palate. Up to now, Barnett has been an artist of promise. Now, on her new album, Barnett sounds established. She's here, she's at her best, and she's only likely to get better. Matthew Fiander

 

Artist: Lightning Bolt

Album: Fantasy Empire

Label: Thrill Jockey

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Lightning Bolt
Fantasy Empire

Lightning Bolt's first record in five years is also its first made on hi-fi recording equipment. But the band hardly uses the studio to polish up its crash. Instead, the walls of the studio become barriers to push against, the same way Lightning Bolt used to play on the floor amidst a swarming fury of fans. Recalling Lightning Bolt's live show is the best place to start to talk about Fantasy Empire, one of the most immediate and dynamic recordings of the band's career. The music feels of the moment, like a performance captured as it happens, and the mix ramps up the pummeling strength of each song. The rhythm section is brilliant on this record, staying propulsive whether they are in the midst of the freakout in 11-minute closer "Snow White (& the 7 Dwarves Fans)", or pounding through the heavy opening of "Dream Genie", or rising and falling at breakneck speed through "King of My World". The guitar work is equally impressive, pitting white-noise distortion and blistering treble against the rumble of the rhythm section. Not since the Minutemen have the high and low carved out such a fascinating space between each other. Even at its most punishing, Fantasy Empire invites you into its squall, inviting your head to bang to the old-school riffage of "Horsepower" or get lost in the sound experiments of "Mythmaster". Unsurprisingly, Lightning Bolt never sits still on this record, but Fantasy Empire gives the band a fresh, new, and singular landscape in which to get restless. Never has bouncing off the walls sounded so fruitful, and never has noise so destructively big sounded so constructive. Matthew Fiander

 

March 31

Artist: Lower Dens

Album: Escape from Evil

Label: Ribbon

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Lower Dens
Escape from Evil

If not for the sci-fi feel of Escape from Evil, you might be surprised that you're listening to the same Lower Dens that made their mark with the neo-Krautrock of 2012's Nootropics. On Escape from Evil, Lower Dens impresario Jana Hunter has smoothed over Nootropics' motorik space-rock explorations, stretching them out and polishing them up into neon-lit synth-pop soundscapes. It's a remarkable transformation for a band that had already taken great lengths in creating a musical profile all its own, coming up with a change in tone and approach that's apparent from the shimmering, atmospheric waves of guitar and keyboard effects that set Escape from Evil into motion. The difference between philosophizing about technology's possibilities -- the main conceit of Nootropics -- and giving into techno's synthetic pleasures, Escape from Evil's compositions are Lower Dens' most immersive ever, their lush and luxurious textures are easier to get lost in. So even if the synth line pulsing through the single "To Die in L.A." brings to mind the space-age grooves of Nootropics, there's a sheen and luster to it that shows off a sleeker, more melodic side to Lower Dens. And when Hunter's yearning vocals swoop in on "To Die in L.A." and play off of the cool, state-of-the-art electro arrangements, Lower Dens reveal what's human about a man-machine aesthetic, something the group does better showing rather than telling on Escape from Evil. Arnold Pan

 

Artist: Ryley Walker

Album: Primrose Green

Label: Dead Oceans

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Ryley Walker
Primrose Green

On Ryley Walker's first album for Dead Oceans, he sounds like a guitarist in the same way someone like Michael Chapman is a guitarist. Like Chapman and others before him, Walker takes his understanding of traditional and primitive American music and expands upon his palette. Primrose Green is a wandering and beautifully gauzy album. It feels lived in, the layers of strings on "The High Road" or the jazz-inspired rhythms of "Summer Dress" or the Takoma-inspired rattle of "Griffiths Buck Blues" all feel like worn jeans. The playing here and the compositions are intricate, but the way Walker's voice drifts through these tracks -- think Nick Drake at his most ornate -- gives them a note of ethereality, but also comfort. With Walker's background and his impressive acoustic guitar play, you might be inclined to think of this as a folk record. But it, and here's where Chapman comes back in, weaves jazz and blues elements into these songs (not to mention hints of psychedelia) so seamlessly that the album really defies easy classification. What is clear about Primrose Green is that it isn't all that eager to leave the past behind. Instead, it reshapes it into something fresh in its sound and, at its best, narcotic in its effect. Primrose Green won't just stick with you, it will seep into your skin. Matthew Fiander

 

Selected Releases for March 2015

(Release dates subject to change)

March 3

Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke - Behold (Editions Mego)

Au.Ra - Jane's Lament (felte)

Bala Brothers - Bala Brothers (Warner Classics)

Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel - Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (Bismeaux)

BLAXXX - For No Apparent Reason (12XU)

Boduf Songs - Stench of Exist (The Flenser)

Brodinski - Br∂v∂ (Parlophone/Warner Bros)

Tom Brosseau - Perfect Abandon (Crossbill)

Will Butler (Arcade Fire) - Policy (Merge)

Cannibal Ox - Blade of the Ronin (IGC)

Brandi Carlile - The Firewatcher's Daughter (ATO)

Clarence Clarity - Now Now (Bella Union)

Kelly Clarkson - Piece by Piece (RCA)

Dorthia Cottrell - Dorthia Cottrell (Forcefield)

Ryan Culwell - Flatlands (Lightning Rods)

Daisyhead - The Smallest Light (No Sleep)

Jeremy Danneman - Lady Boom Boom (Ropeadope)

Thomas D'Arcy - Fool Me Twice (Thomas D'Arcy/Maple)

Digitalism - Second Chance EP (Toolroom)

ELEL - ELEL EP (Mom+Pop)

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday (Kobalt)

Albert "Tootie" Heath Trio - Philadelphia Beat (Sunnyside)

Kaki King - The Neck is a Bridge to the Body (Short Stuff)

Kings - Kings (Jellowstone)

Gill Landry (of Old Crow Medicine Show) - Gill Landry (ATO)

La Batteria - La Batteria (Penny)

Lady Lazarus - Miracles (Queen's Ransom)

Leviathan - Scar Sighted (Profound Lore)

Lions Lions - Changing the Definition EP

Lotic - Heterocetera EP (Tri Angle)

Moon Duo - Shadow of the Sun (Sacred Bones)

Null - Almost EP (Acéphale/Siberia)

of Montreal - Aureate Gloom (Polyvinyl)

Palmbomen II - Palmbomen II (Beats in Space/RVNG Intl.)

Parquet Courts - Live at Third Man Records (Third Man)

RA - Scandanavia (Adrian)

Sannhet - Revisionist (The Flenser)

The Shires - Brave (Decca Nashville)

Soko - My Dreams Dictate My Reality (Babycat)

Amy Speace - That Kind Of Girl (Windbone)

The Staple Singers - Freedom Highway Complete (Legacy)

The Stones - Three Blind Mice (Flying Nun/Captured Tracks)

Jayme Stone - Jayme Stone's Lomax Project (Borealis)

Subversion - Animi (Rogue)

Summer Cannibals - Show Us Your Mind (New Moss)

Swervedriver - I Wasn't Born to Lose You (Cobraside)

These Tall Trees - And All Things In-Between

The Charlie Tipper Experiment - Mellow On (Break)

To Kill a King - To Kill a King (Xtra Mile)

Tuxedo (Mayor Hawthorne & Jake One) - Tuxedo (Stones Throw)

Vessels - Dilate (Bias/The Leaf Label)

Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase (Kscope)

Yonatan Gat - Director (Joyful Noise)

Young Buffalo - House (Votiv)

March 10

Mohamed Abozekry & Heejaz Extended - Ring Road (Jazz Village)

Marc Almond - The Velvet Trail (Cherry Red)

BKO Quintet - BKO Quintet: The New Tradition of Mali (Buda Musique)

Bouquet - In a Dream EP (Ulrike/Folktale)

Bob Crewe - The Complete Elektra Recordings 2-CD set (Real Gone Music)

Diagrams - Chromatics (Full Time)

Dick Diver - Melbourne, Florida (Trouble in Mind)

Evans the Death - Expect Delays (Slumberland)

Fawn Spots - From Safer Place (Critical Heights)

Gengahr - She's a Witch EP (Transgressive)

Emily Hearn - Hourglass

Heems (MC formerly of Das Racist) - Eat, Pray, Thug (Megaforce)

Judas Priest - Defenders of the Faith 30th Anniversary Edition (Legacy)

Betty LaVette - Child of the Seventies (Real Gone Music)

Peggy Lee - At Last: The Lost Radio Recordings 2-CD set (Real Gone Music)

Madonna - Rebel Heart (Interscope)

Johnny Mathis - Life Is a Song Worth Singing: The Complete Thom Bell Sessions 2-CD set (Real Gone Music)

The Minus 5 - Dungeon Golds (Yep Roc)

Mo Kolours - How I (Rhythm Love Affair) EP (One-Handed Music)

Motor Sister - Ride (Metal Blade)

Olly Murs - Never Been Better (Columbia)

Tom Paxton - Redemption Road (Pax)

Joe Pug - Windfall

The Rezillos - ZERO (Metropolis)

River City Extension - Deliverance (Anchor & Hope)

March 17

Olafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott - The Chopin Project (Mercury Classics)

Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield - Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith (Ramseur)

Bourbonese Qualk - Bourbonese Qualk 1983-1987 (Mannequin)

The Bright Light Social Hour - Space Is Still the Place (Frenchkiss)

Dødheimsgard - A Umbra Omega (Peaceville)

Father Murphy - Croce (The Flenser)

The Grassy Knoll - Electric Verdeland, Vol. 1 (Electric Verde)

Houndmouth - Little Neon Limelight (Rough Trade)

Inventions - Maze of Woods (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon (True Panther)

Simon Joyner - Grass, Branch & Bone (Woodsist)

Mark Knopfler - Tracker (Verve)

Lilacs & Champagne - Midnight Features Vol. 2: Made Flesh (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Liz Longley - Liz Longley (Sugar Hill)

Marina and the Diamonds - Froot (Elektra)

Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves (Epic)

The Monochrome Set - Spaces Everywhere (Tapete)

Allison Moorer - Down to Believing (eOne Nashville)

Sarah Bethe Nelson - Fast-Moving Clouds (Burger)

ohnomoon - VVV EP

The Phantoms - Wasting Time

The Pine Hill Project - Tomorrow You're Going (Signature Sounds)

Pyramids - A Northern Meadow (Profound Lore)

Rabit - Baptizm EP (Tri Angle)

Twin Shadow - Eclipse (Warner)

Various Artista - MusicNOW: 10 Years (Brassland)

Various Artists - Spiritual Jazz 6: Vocals (Jazzman)

Various Artists - The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary Edition (Legacy)

Wand - Golem (In the Red)

Glenn Zaleski - My Ideal (Sunnyside)

March 24

Action Bronson - Mr. Wonderful (Vice/Atlantic)

Ilyas Ahmed - I Am All Your Own (Immune)

Bee Gees - Bee Gees: 1974-1979 5-CD set (Reprise)

Big Data - 2.0 (Warner Bros.)

Frank Black and the Catholics - The Complete Recordings (Cooking Vinyl)

Buena Vista Social Club - Lost and Found (World Circuit)

Chastity Belt - Time to Go Home (Hardly Art)

Color Therapy - Mr. Wolf is Dead (Color Therapy)

The Cribs - For All My Sisters (Arts & Crafts)

Ettiquette - Reminisce (Hand Drawn Dracula)

Feufollet - Two Universes (Feufollet/Thirty Tigers)

Flako - Natureboy (Five Easy Pieces)

Andy Gabbard - Fluff (Alive Naturalsound)

The Go! Team - The Scene Between (Memphis Industries)

Chilly Gonzales - Chambers

Happyness - Weird Little Birthday (Bar None)

Hayden - Hey Love (Arts & Crafts)

James - Laid / Wah Wah Super Deluxe Box Set (Universal

Jeff the Brotherhood - Wasted on the Dream (Infinity Cat)

Jimmy Whispers - Summer in Pain

JLIN - Dark Energy (Planet Mu

Kodaline - Coming Up for Air (RCA)

Liturgy - The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey)

LoneLady - Hinterland

Laura Marling - Short Movie (Ribbon)

MC Kuf Knotz - A Positive Light (Ropeadope)

Nellie McKay - My Weekly Reader (429)

Milo's Planes - Aural Palate Cleaning Exercises

Mini Mansions - The Great Pretenders (Electromagnetic Recordings/Capitol)

Van Morrison - Duets: Reworking the Catalogue (RCA)

The Myrrors - Arena Negra (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)

Next Stop Soweto - Next Stop Soweto 4Zulu Disco, Afro-Disco & Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (Strut)

Niyaz - The Fourth Light (Six Degrees)

Pikara - This Hollow

The Silence (with Masaki Batoh of Ghost) - The Silence (Drag City)

Smallpools - Lovetap! (RCA)

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Freedom Tower - No Wave Dance Party 2015 (Mom+Pop)

Striking Matches - Nothing But the Silence (I.R.S. Nashville)

Surf City - Jekyll Island (Fire)

Them Are Us Too - Remain (Dais)

Too Close to Touch - Nerve Endings (Epitaph)

Various Artists - Classic American Ballads (Smithsonian Folkways)

Vetiver - Complete Strangers (Easy Sound)

Leo "Bud" Welch - I Don't Prefer No Blues (Big Legal Mess)

March 31

The Apartments - the evening visits...and stays for years reissue (Captured Tracks)

Barren Earth - On Lonely Towers (Century Media)

Debashish Bhattacharya - Slide Guitar Ragas from Dusk Till Dawn (Riverboat)

Boxed In - Boxed In (Nettwerk)

Glen Campbell - Rhinestone Cowboy 40th Anniversary Edition (Capitol Nashville)

Hannah Cohen - Pleasure Boy (Bella Union)

Rocky Dawuni - Branches of the Same Tree (Cumbancha)

Dead Sara - Pleasure to Meet You (Pocket Kid)

Death Cab for Cutie - Kintsugi (Atlantic)

Tim Foljahn - Fucking Love Songs (Kiam)

Föllakzoid - III (Sacred Bones)

Fort Romeau - Insides (Ghostly International)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Constellation)

Jose James - Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday (Blue Note)

Peter Katz - We Are the Reckoning

Legs - Altitud (Unsatisfied)

Lost Boy? - Canned (PaperCup)

Madeon - Adventure (Columbia)

Marching Church - This World Is Not Enough (Posh Isolation/Sacred Bones)

Sarah Gayle Meech - Tennessee Love Song

Milkdrive - Places You've Not Been (Bismeaux)

Motorama - Poverty (Talitres)

Pentagram - All Your Sins (Peaceville)

Benoît Pioulard - Sonnet (Kranky)

The Prodigy - The Day Is My Enemy (Three Six Zero/Warner Bros)

Reptar - Lurid Glow (Joyful Noise)

Darius Rucker - Southern Style (Capitol Nashville)

Boz Scaggs - A Fool to Care (429)

Scharpling & Wurster - The Best of the Best Show 16-CD Set (Numero Group)

Ron Sexmith - Carousel One (Compass)

The Sonics - This Is the Sonics

Ringo Starr - Postcards from Paradise (Universal)

The Staves - If I Was (Nonesuch)

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

Various Artists - The Rough Guide to Blind Boy Fuller (Rough Guide)

Various Artists - The Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues (Rough Guide)

Wake Up Lucid - Gone With the Night (WUL)

William Elliott Whitmore - Radium Death (Anti-)

Over the Rainbow: An Interview With Herb Alpert

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